12 January, 2010

The world cries for an Army of Justice

Campbell Roberts

In a world of huge economic need and social challenge it can seem audacious to call ourselves The Salvation Army. Not audacious when we consider the Lord we serve but audacious perhaps when we consider the real impact of our movement on the world.

Despite amazing advances in social and economic provision, many still do not have the basic life necessities of adequate shelter, food, healthcare or education. Some women are slaves in a global industry of sexual exploitation while others prostitute themselves so their children can eat. In the media we are daily confronted with a world that looks for leadership and creative solutions in the issues that threaten to destroy the human community.

The Salvation Army annually spends millions of dollars globally in investments of time, capital, plant and personnel in evangelical and social mission. The question we cannot and should not avoid however is “does the modern day Salvation Army make the impact and difference in the world it should?”

The Salvation Army came into existence to offer personal salvation through our evangelical ministries, human care through social service and to change the world and the way of life for those in oppression and poverty by its justice ministries.

Biblical Tradition
Standing at the centre of the biblical narrative is a conceptual understanding that ultimately life only works when not only human individuals but also human communities are in an interactive relationship with God. Individual, societal and national life only finds its true purpose and meaning in relationship with God. So when the individual, community or national relationship with God breaks down, sin occurs and the seeds of destruction are sown in that individual human life or human community.

We cannot conduct our evangelical and social services without reference to the enormous injustice that creates suffering and desperation in the world. A world where just to quote two statistics 600 million children live in absolute poverty,
[1] and 8.4 million children are trapped in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities.[2] Salvos cannot sleep easy where, even in Australia a percentage of the population are being denied basic necessities that make life sustainable.

Scripture demands redemption of all aspects of a sinful world.

Listen to the words of Paul:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

This is our Biblical mandate, to be conveyers of hope in the midst of a dark, terrorised and unjust world. Our message is clear - Injustice of all types can be defeated in Christ.

It’s also our organisational DNA. William Booth’s work as a pawnbroker’s assistant brought him into contact with the harshness and deprivation of poverty. The experience impacted his life and drove him to create a mission in The Salvation Army which changed things.

Why all this apparatus of temples and meeting houses to save men from perdition in a world which is to come, while never…stretching out to save them from the inferno of their present life.

The world needs a strong and passionate voice of justice from The Salvation Army. A voice of courage, tackling injustice whether sourced in government policies, the actions of global or national corporations, public racism or secular ideologies and philosophies.

Australia loves and holds in high esteem the Salvo mission. That love and reputation is a great asset, but as with all assets we must be prepared to invest it and put it at risk for the most vulnerable in the world and to stay true to the call, to be a people of justice. That reputation and respect is not for us to use for ourselves it is ours to use on behalf of the world’s vulnerable.

If the Salvation Army is to make an impact that makes a difference in our world then the biblical mandate for justice needs to be increasingly acted out at all levels of our activity and organisation. We need comparable contemporary Salvo voices speaking out clearly on national and global issues of oppression and injustice. Not in triumphalism, but articulating the voices of those whose own voices and needs are often not heard in the places of influence in our world

The action required will vary according to the context and disciplines in which The Salvation Army operates. Walter Brueggemann describes Justice as sorting out what belongs to whom and returning it to them”
[4]. One of The Salvation Army’s tasks is sorting out what belongs to who and set about the task of returning it to them. Moving children out of poverty, returning life to the trafficked, ensuring housing for the homeless and securing dignity for the elderly. It means sorting out what rightly belongs to indigenous people, to asylum seekers, and giving it to them.

Micah is the voice of the peasant crying out against the greedy power of the state.

But Micah is more than a critic. He also offers an alternative.
A vision of society without exploitation. But there is a catch. For all to have access to the necessities of life, those in power must be less greedy – all must accept a peasant lifestyle, a peasant lifestyle where each family has what they need to live – “every man shall sit under his vine and his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:1-4). For everyone to have something, some may need to consume less.

Working for social justice then is not an optional extra for The Salvation Army. It is the urgent task of a needy world, a task to eliminate the tears and suffering of those at the margins of this world.

[1] Poverty Reduction Begins with Children, UNICEF, 2000
[2] Facts on Child Labour, International Labour Organization, 2003
[3] William Booth, In Darkest England and the way out
[4] Brueggemann Walter et al Act Justly, Love Tenderly, Walk Humbly, pg 5.

Major Campbell Roberts is the Territorial Secretary for Social Programme for New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory